Authors: Helen J Rolfe
Handle Me with Care
Helen J. Rolfe
Copyright © 2015 Helen J. Rolfe
Published by Fabrian Books
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner without the express written permission of the publisher.
Helen J Rolfe asserts the right to be identified as the author of this book. All the characters and events in this book are fictional. Any resemblance to individuals is entirely coincidental.
For my husband and my girls
‘I think that’s the biggest penis I’ve ever seen,’ said a little old lady. ‘And the hugest pair of testicles!’
Maddie Kershaw spun round and stared in horror at the cake a group of elderly folks had unveiled; the cake she had only that morning finished icing for a bachelorette party. Upon arrival at the function room, she had set the cake box on the trestle table along the wall and turned her back to call her best friend, Ally, to double-check the address. She hadn’t imagined a crowd would descend on the cake so quickly.
The enormous chocolate penis with cartoon-sized testicles stared back at Maddie, like a veritable arrow pointing to her mistake in delivering it to the function venue on Violet Street instead of the function venue on Violet Road. Maddie’s cheeks burned as scarlet as the cardigan the little old lady wore over her loose-fitting black dress that floated past her knees. The sniggering over the phallic cake crescendoed. The autumn sun that warmed the room through the windows felt stifling. Only now did she notice the helium balloons with ‘100’ written on them and the banner two adult males were fixing up at the far end of the room which very clearly read ‘Happy Birthday’.
She wished the floorboards would open up and swallow her whole.
A smooth, velvety male voice came from behind and Maddie’s breath caught in her throat.
‘I thought I told you to behave today, Jem,’ the man told the old lady, who had pulled on a lemon-sherbet pair of thick framed glasses so she could take a closer look at the shaved chocolate that represented the pubic hair. He nodded in approval at the cake that lay there in all of its glory, incongruous against the pale pink tablecloth with its delicate, innocent white roses.
‘I’m afraid there’s been a bit of a mistake.’ Maddie locked eyes with the woman whom she now knew as Jem, but she couldn’t bring herself to look up at the man as she explained her confusion with the location. His stare was firmly fixed on her from his height a good ten inches above her own five foot five. She rushed forwards and manoeuvred the lid on to the box to give them all back a little dignity.
‘Pity.’ Jem grinned. ‘It was shaping up to be a fun party when I saw that.’
‘Please accept my sincere apologies. This cake was meant for a bachelorette party.’ Maddie cringed at the thought of what was still inside of the closed cake box, but she was relieved at the old lady’s obvious sense of humour, glad she hadn’t caused a cardiac arrest with her mistake.
‘Oh, that’s easily done, pet.’ Jem dismissed Maddie’s apologies with a wave of her hand. ‘Melbourne is a huge city. I’m always getting muddled up.’
The man stepped forwards. ‘I’m Evan, by the way – Jem’s grandson.’ His dark wavy hair threatened big curls should he let it grow longer, and the stubble that had settled across his jaw only added to his appeal.
As Maddie made eye contact, she noticed the same look of mischief in Evan’s eyes as the little old lady’s. ‘Maddie.’ She cleared her throat as her words failed to come out clearly, and she returned his smile with difficulty when his eyes – a deeper, seventy per cent cocoa version of Jem’s – refused to look away.
Jem peeked into the box again and beckoned over a male friend of a similar age.
When Evan leaned closer, he took Maddie by surprise. ‘I hope they’re not doing any sort of comparison.’
She was only able to breathe again when he moved away; meeting him had left her unusually flustered.
‘Do you make cakes like this for a living, Maddie?’
‘It’s just a hobby, cake-making—’ Not penis-cake-making, she wanted to say. She felt as though her entire mouth had been filled with cotton wool. ‘I’m a physiotherapist,’ she offered instead.
‘Well, I wouldn’t tell half of this lot.’ He indicated the crowd, most of whom were closer to Jem’s generation than Evan and Maddie’s. ‘They’ll be talking about their hips, their arthritis, their knees and backs and all sorts. You’ll never get out of here.’
‘Don’t worry, I won’t let it slip.’ Uneasy beneath his gaze, she said, ‘Jem looks remarkably well for her age.’
‘She is. Apart from some mild arthritis in her wrists – which she says gets in the way of her doing so much around the house – she’s as fit as anything. She’s a bit slower moving than she would’ve been twenty or thirty years ago, but she’s lucky.’
Jem closed the box and turned to Maddie. ‘You’ve made my day, dear. It’s certainly a novel way of showing one hundred.’ She giggled. ‘The penis could be the
, and the testi—’
‘That’s enough, Jem!’ A girl with the same smile, dark eyes and dark hair as Evan emerged from the crowd holding a yellow balloon between her fingers, ready to be blown up. ‘I’m Holly, Jem’s granddaughter and Evan’s sister.’ Unlike Evan, Holly had let the curls of her hair tumble out of their own free will.
Maddie introduced herself and was grateful to be released from Evan’s scrutiny when two energetic little boys dragged him on to the dance floor. Both wore miniature suits, each with a tie she estimated had another ten minutes of shelf life before being yanked off and discarded on the floor.
‘I’m really sorry about the mix-up, Holly.’
Holly finished blowing air into the long yellow balloon and tied a knot at the end. ‘Between you and me, I think you’ve made Jem’s day.’
When the double doors to the hall sprang open and a more professional looking caterer entered, Maddie swiftly shifted her cake out of the way to make room for the new, more appropriate square cake with white frosting.
‘I rather preferred yours.’ Jem appeared beside her, and Maddie couldn’t ignore the way the old lady’s mouth tugged at the corners when she spoke. ‘Your cake is much more fun. Even the chocolate curly bits are very well formed. It’s a professional job.’
‘You mean professional apart from the fact that it’s a penis.’
Jem’s face danced with mischief and a chortle escaped. ‘Oh, do please stay for a slice of cake, Maddie. It’s not every day I turn one hundred, and it’s not every day I meet a fresh young face like yours.’
‘Of course I will, but I’d better deliver my cake to the bachelorette party first, or there’ll be some angry ladies out to get me later.’ Not to mention the need to remove her penis cake from the prying eyes of the rampant pensioners and inquisitive children who had again gathered around the creation.
Promising she’d return and uncomfortable beneath Evan’s gaze from across the room, Maddie carried the cake out of the party, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other as she crossed the car park. She prayed that she didn’t stumble and fall flat on her face into the giant penis. She’d had enough embarrassment for one day.
Maddie found the correct venue easily enough, and as the bachelorette party wasn’t set to be in full swing until much later, she headed back to Jem’s celebrations. It was the least she could do after she’d disrupted the start of the party so spectacularly.
At Jem’s party, Holly welcomed Maddie into the crowd that had at least doubled in her absence. They joked about the cake again, and it wasn’t long before Jem noticed her return.
‘I’m glad you came back,’ said Jem, linking Maddie’s arm with her own and leading her into the throng. ‘You’re just in time.’
Maddie realised how frail this little old lady really was, despite her energy. She was ever so slightly stooped at the shoulders, reducing her height to just below Maddie’s, and the skin on her arm felt papery. Maddie suspected what kept this woman ploughing on through life was her enthusiasm and obvious appetite for merriment. From her vivid cardigan to the little grey curls that danced from the top of her head all the way to the nape of her neck, her laugh and the twinkle in her eye, Jem radiated warmth and fun.
The sound of tapping against a glass and the cessation of music brought the crowd to a standstill, and Jem was ushered to the middle of the room to say a few words before the cake was cut.
Maddie stood at the side of the dance floor feeling conspicuous as that-girl-who-brought-the-penis-cake. But the other guests appeared to have moved on to more exciting things, and she joined in as they sang Happy Birthday.
During the final round of applause, Maddie felt Evan’s eyes settle on her from the other side of the room. They’d only exchanged a few words, but it hadn’t lessened her reaction to him. Had her knees really weakened? Surely not, that was just a fallacy wasn’t it? Had she really needed to concentrate on breathing in a rhythm that calmed her down and didn’t let her heart thump against her chest? Or maybe the heat from the crowd was getting to her and that was all.
Maddie was rescued from Evan’s gaze by a paper plate with a generous slice of cake being thrust in front of her. Since Riley, no other man had made her this nervous and her mouth was so dry that each bite of the lemony sponge formed a hard ball in her oesophagus.
Jem scurried over to her again. ‘Come on, I need a cuppa.’
Maddie followed Jem to a longer table set against the far wall upon which was an obedient line of tea cups, saucers and labelled urns.
‘Here, let me.’ Maddie noted the size of the urn compared to Jem.
‘Don’t be silly.’ Jem swatted away the offer of help. ‘How do you think I stay looking so youthful? This is my weight training.’ She smiled impishly. ‘My brain stays in check with this Nintendo DS thingamajig Evan and Holly bought me for my 95th.’
Maddie could well imagine her using one, and it made her smile as they took their cups of tea over to the chairs lined up against a wall at the edge of the dance floor.
‘I don’t condone all this screen time youngsters have nowadays,’ said Jem, slurping the top of her tea, ‘but I’m old. I’m supposed to sit down a bit.’
Jem’s family and friends seemed a lively bunch, but given the choice between this crowd and twenty girls making pottery penises and downing shots, Maddie knew this party was the lesser of two evils.
‘Are they your great-grandchildren?’ Maddie nodded towards a group of kids on the dance floor who looked as though they were auditioning for
The X Factor
‘Most of them, yes.’ She pointed to a little girl dressed in a silky, bottle-green and white polka dot dress with an enormous bow tied at the back. ‘That’s Ava, Holly’s daughter. She’s four going on fourteen. Reminds me of when I was her age.’
‘She’s gorgeous, quite the little lady.’ Maddie watched as Ava pulled Evan in from the sidelines and pleaded with him to twirl her around in his arms. She hadn’t thought it possible to be jealous of a four-year-old before.
‘She’s already got her eye on this.’ Jem patted the butterfly brooch pinned to her dress. Tiny circles of crystal made up the wings and two thin antennae poked out, curling at the top.
‘My late husband gave it to me. But I’m not daft. I won’t be taking it to my grave. I’ll let her have it.’
Raucous laughter erupted as party poppers exploded across the room with streams of yellows, pinks and reds landing on unsuspecting partiers. The kids dived on to the floor, grabbing at the strands.
‘And are you with anyone, Maddie? I don’t see a ring.’
Maddie laughed at the bluntness as she pushed her cup to join Jem’s on the table next to them. ‘No, I’m single.’ If Riley had still been alive, her answer would probably have been ‘married with children’.
‘What, a lovely slip of a girl like you?’ Jem shook her head. ‘What’s the world coming to?’
‘I’m getting on a bit now. I’m thirty-six.’
‘That’s young by my book. Ah, look out, here comes trouble.’
Maddie followed the direction of Jem’s gaze to see Evan fast approaching in an attempt to escape the rigours of the dance floor. Pink’s ‘Get the Party Started’ was blaring out at this far-from-average tea and cake birthday celebration.
‘Are you coming to request a dance with the birthday girl?’ asked Jem cheekily. ‘Because if you are, I’ll have to take a rain check. My bladder isn’t quite what it used to be, and that tea has gone right through me.’ She excused herself but not before she put an arm on Maddie’s, looked at Evan and said, ‘Don’t you let this one go anywhere. I haven’t finished with her yet.’
Evan took the vacant chair, and Maddie tried to keep her composure when his thigh brushed against her own.
‘What did you think of the cake?’ he asked.
She gulped as his question conjured up the image of him watching her so intently just before she was offered a slice. ‘It was lovely.’
‘Now I know you’re being polite. It was dry, even Jem said so.’ The corners of his mouth tugged in amusement in the same way Jem’s had moments ago. ‘She’s still hankering for a slice of that gigantic penis, you know.’
His laughter was enough to set her at ease when she flushed at the sound of the word ‘penis’ tumbling from his mouth. She wished she could hide behind her wavy caramel-coloured hair that usually hung midway down her back between her shoulder blades. But she always tied it up whenever she was baking for fear of producing the dreaded hair in the dessert one day.
‘Thank you for the compliment … I think. But unless Jem wants to come to a feisty bachelorette party, she’ll have to make do with her own cake.’
‘Don’t even suggest it to her or she’ll be there in a flash, probably out-dancing half of the younger crowd.’
He pointed to another lady who had taken to the dance floor at the insistence of the younger ones. She had the family traits: dark hair, dark eyes and a smile that dazzled anyone in its path. ‘That’s my mum, Martha. She’s been trying to persuade Jem to move out of her unit and into the granny flat at her place for years now. Mum’s off on a holiday to Canada as of tomorrow, but I know she’s hoping Jem will finally give in when she gets back.’